In the high-action TV show Nikita, Maggie Q plays the title character, a coolheaded rogue assassin being hunted by secret agents. She's also been a bomb-detonating operative with Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible III and a gun-wielding killer opposite Bruce Willis in Live Free or Die Hard. In real life, though, she wouldn't harm a fly -- or any other living thing. She's an ambassador for WildAid, a nonprofit whose slogan is "When the buying stops, the killing can too." A conservation activist for the past 14 of her 33 years, Q cares especially about sharks.
Q: Why sharks?
A: They're a huge part of the ocean ecosystem. If we don't protect our oceans, if we don't allow fish to repopulate, we're in bigger trouble than people realize. It's the biggest ecosystem on the planet, and it's not living and breathing like it should.
Q: Did growing up in Hawaii influence your love of the sea and its animals?
A: Definitely. I got an upfront experience with the natural world, and that was one of the things that led me toward conservation. Then I grew up and went, "Wow, people aren't getting this."
Q: You tweeted a photo of you swimming with an endangered whale shark. Why did you do that? What did it feel like?
A: I thought there would be fear, but their energy was amazing, and they so honorably allowed me to enter their space. These things are enormous, like dinosaurs. And I was in their home. But they gently maneuvered around me and allowed me up in their face. I had an enormous sense of gratitude. I kept apologizing and thanking them, saying, "I'm so sorry, but this is all for you."
Q: What would you like to see happen in regard to sharks?
A: Now that I'm working in Toronto, I'd love to see shark fin get banned in Canada. If Canada does it, maybe the U.S. will. I'm hoping to do advocacy work for it here.
Q: You're a vegetarian. Why?
A: Because it's all related when you're talking about pollution, global warming, soil contamination. If I care about the oceans, I'm not going to eat beef. That waste is going in our oceans, our soil. It's all connected. Once you truly get it, you can't ignore it. I can't want to advocate for sharks and tigers but then eat chicken sandwiches and have a steak.
Q: What made you want to be an ambassador for WildAid?
A: They chose me. I'd been working in conservation for so many years and it was always a group I admired but they had such big celebrities: Angelina, Leo, Jackie Chan. So I figured they're good -- they have people so much bigger than me. But their approach is incredibly smart. They have this way of affecting consumers. They looked at who was buying shark fin and ivory, and it was Asians. I'm mixed but I do have a name there and wanted to speak to consumers there and say: This is up to us. All of the suffering and depletion that we're contributing to is up to us. WildAid's slogan is, "When the buying stops, the killing stops," and that's so simply it.
Q: Do you ever try to get the conservation message woven into any of the TV shows or movies you do?
A: Oh, yeah, always. Nikita's a vegetarian. There's this scene where she's served beef and she just pushes it around her plate, then says, "I'll just have vegetables." I push the diet on everyone on set and now so many people I work with don't eat meat anymore.
Q: Tell me about your TV commercial that's currently airing throughout Asia, about China's moon bears.
A: Moon bears are these highly endangered black bears with a white "V" on their neck. They're stolen out of the wild at a young age and put into a cage sometimes for 10 or 15 years. The Chinese believe that there's a bile the bears make in their gall bladders that's good for some ridiculous thing -- vitality, libido, whatever -- and they pump it out. In the PSA, I'm speaking directly to the Chinese consumer, saying, "What are you guys doing? How can you think that making an animal suffer in this way makes you a more vital or beautiful human?"
--interview by Avital Andrews